This essay was published in IN SEARCH OF (NON)SENSE by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2009. The book, edited by Elzbieta Chrzanowska-Kluczewska and Grzegorz Szpila, is a collection of various essays written by narratologists from all part of the world who took part in a conference at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Although I'm not a narratologist I was invited to present my books which can easily be labelled as (non)sense books...


Why a book is so imp-ort-and...


As the saying goes, “One image can say more than one thousand words”. This is true in some situations. When I want to learn how to replace the ink cartridge in my printer with no doubt it is better to look at pictures than to read a circuitous description. Or when you buy a new desk, bring it home and want to assemble it... But this is not true in some other situations. When my daughter comes back home and I ask her “what were you doing at school?” then the reverse is true... But when I want to learn something about the music on the just released CD neither words nor images will satisfy me. Reading a review I will learn only the opinion of a critic, no matter how experienced he or she is. Of course, an information that “the guitarist plays even faster and more precise than John McLaughlin” can be quite worthy indication what kind of playing I can expect and I what sounds I can try to imagine. Luckily I know who John McLaughlin is, what he plays and how, but if somebody does not then such information makes no sense at all. Using names (of persons, styles, things and whatever) makes sense only when a reader (or listener) knows what is hidden behind them, otherwise names are but an empty sounds or combination of sounds (of course sometimes you can work out something due to certain associations or similarities, but you can never unveil the mystery entirely unless somebody gives you a proper explanation). So, instead of words and images I need sounds. It's enough to switch on the CD player and everything is clear...

Nevertheless, there are situations where words, images and sounds are useless. I suffer anosmia. Well, I don't know if the word “suffer” is the right word. Looking at someone's reaction I may think of my disability in terms of being blessed rather than cursed. This is not so important. The point is that I don't know any smells. More. I don't know what a smell is. I don't know what it means that something or someone is smelling. Any descriptions of smells assume that a reader or listener experienced smelling hence they know what smelling means. So far I haven't experienced smelling hence I don't know what smelling means, so a statement that something is stinking means for me absolutely nothing. All metaphors and comparisons are for me meaningless and empty (“you look like a just baked roll” tells me a lot, but “you smell like a just baked roll” tells me nothing; although I can read Proust or Suskind with utmost interest, their descriptions will recall in my mind nothing since there are stored in it no memories of any fragrances, scents or odours; nor I can imagine anything since we can imagine only what we know, we can't imagine what we don't know - I know it may sound like a paradox or heresy but that's the way it is)... Luckily I know tastes, although with no doubt my sense of taste is rather simple, maybe even primitive. But even if I have the most sophisticated sense of taste, the best description of an unknown taste of a meal I have never eaten in my life will only help me to imagine how it might taste if I ate it. I must be aware that these will be but mental constructs, concepts, ideas, approximations – I will not really learn how this meal tastes unless I put a piece of in into my mouth.


However, even if I was not disabled and could smell (so also imagine and recall various smells) this would be of no importance, as well as words, images and sounds, in case of space (and probably time, too). Models and mock-ups seem to be more helpful in that case. They will say more than words, sounds or images. Yes, even than images – of course I mean drawings or pictures made on a flat surface and trying to create the illusion of three-dimensionality with a help of perspective tricks. Yet due to the used scale (models and mock-ups are bigger or smaller than what they present, although sometimes we deal with 1:1 models) they are but approximations of situations and objects they present... Generally speaking (and writing), we are condemned to approximations, because it's simply impossible to experience all sounds, tastes or smells, we can't visit all places in the world, we can't live in all times...


Approximations can be more or less close. Usually we consider words, images, sounds, mock-ups as opposite elements, as enemies, rivals, competitors. This is wrong. And very willingly we hierarchize them placing words on the top. This is wrong, too. Words, images, sounds, mock-ups and the others are just complementary. Together they can say more, much more than separately provided that they are used complementarily: when words not suffice, use an image, when image is helpless use a mock-up and so on. I don't mean illustrating! An illustration is a picture added to the text; it can help the text or it can disturb the text, but the text can do very well without this picture. In case of an illustration text and picture are independent while I'm thinking of a relation of total dependency. A book must be like a car: all parts the car is composed of are necessary to make her go – we can't neglect wheels or drive shaft saying that only engine matters... MUST or CAN? That's a good question.


When a book is regarded as a mere container for text (words) then it can but don't need. A text (words) is independent of all other elements a book is composed of. At least this is how it seems to us and what we assume and think to make our lives easier. But life is not that easy as we suppose and would like it to be. The paint and paper exist physically and they impact on us, whether we want it or not; perfect indifference of a printed copy is sheer wishful thinking.

When a book is not regarded as a mere container for words, then it must.

A container for letters (words) is a domain (area, zone, territory – label it as you like) of literature. Such a container is usually called a book, although it shouldn't since a book is something more that just a container for words. Or a book which is something more that just a container for words should have a different name. Names and labels are not the most important problem, although they are imps that can bring us a lot of misunderstandings and confusion.


When we regard a book as not a mere container for letters (words, phrases), then we are skipping from the level of literature to the level of liberature. In case of literature only text (letters, words, phrases...) is the conveyor, transmitter of a message. In case of liberature a whole book conveys messages. Shapes, colours and size of letters, page layout, colour and texture of paper, binding, covers, the way the book is opened and closed, flow of the text, sound of turning pages... all book components take part in telling the story. Or at least can and should take part.


Skipping from literature to liberature will probably need a few other important conceptual shifts. Usually we regard writing as a graphicised talking. This is wrong. For many reasons but I will mention only two, basic and essential: talking can only be heard, while writing can only be seen (or touched). These are two absolutely different ways of perceiving the message what has crucial consequences. We both generate and perceive spoken text in a linear way (although it is possible to sing two or even three sounds simultaneously using the overtone technique, I have never heard two different words uttered in the same moment). Although the written text is also generated in a linear way, letter by letter, word by word, it is never read in that way. We never see only the words which is being read, we always see the entire page, it means a lot of other words around the one just being read, and in fact also many other things surrounding the text. And another essential difference: spoken words vanishes at once while written words stays on the page.


Not only writing is something else than talking – thinking is not talking, too. I mean talking silently in one's mind. This is how we usually imagine the process of thinking. However mind talking is just a part of what is going on in our heads. So, as usually this is a problem of definition: if we define thinking as just “talking silently and voicelessly in one's mind” then it's all right. But if we define thinking as “everything that's going on in one's mind” then we will face a drastic simplification. This is also a problem how we define a notion, a concept, an idea... Usually we regard them as words, as names. To conceptualise means for us to turn something into words, to name. But quite easily a notion, a concept, an idea, a name can be a sign or a picture. A few years ago a well known singer and composer Prince (of course this is a nickname, so a concept as well) decided to stop to be Prince. He transformed himself into... a sign. The sign looked almost like a Zodiac sign and seemed a combination of female and male signs. So, the new CD had this sign on the front cover. One could also find an information: performed, composed and produced by ^\/^ (well, I have replaced IT with a simple emoticon-like combination of strokes I could generate with my keyboard). Imagine now the confusion of DJs trying to announce a new song sung by ^\/^... Prince or ^\/^ or whoever, with no doubt has his mind full of sounds when composing. An architect, designer or painter with no doubt has their minds full of pictures when drawing, painting or designing – words are useless. If we define thinking as “talking silently in one's mind” then composing a symphony or designing a poster occur thoughtlessly. Even when I think (?) of a book I don't use words – I imagine it as an object, I imagine situations I'd like to describe. So, even books would be the result of thoughtless (at least partially) process.


And last but not least: distinguishing form from content has no sense or make very little sense.
Within a book (but not within a text!) one can find film, theatre, painting, sculpture, installation, performance, happening, music, dance, architecture (in fact a book is like a building or like a town: letters-words-houses, sentences-phrases-streets, chapters-districts... while rambling around a town is like reading a book)... almost all other domains of arts. A book seems a territory shared by all of them. This makes a book something unique, what not necessarily means something better, but with no doubt means something very, very difficult to master. It demands more various skills than only to write. It demands a different kind of imagination. It demands far greater responsibility and courage because you enter the territory not exploited, not searched well, poorly civilised, still quite wild, with a lot of traps and threads.

Imagine an almost square plot of land. 2100 m2. At the edge of a pine wood. There's a wooden fence around the plot, a small summer cottage in the centre, some trees, bushes... Now imagined this very place, once possessed by my parents, in an invisible cuboid. The bottom part of the cuboid sinks in the sandy soil while the upper part protrudes above the tree tops. Now use a literature-liberature tomograph and slice the cube. Thus you will receive 365 sheets. Make of them an accordion (a leporello). When it is folded it is just a cuboid of the same proportions as the invisible one standing in the forest. When you turn the pages leftward you will move across the space, from the top of the cuboid to the bottom. At first you will be among colourful birds and blue letters and signs – then you will be among green needles of twisted pines – then you will look through the window – then you will be an ant walking along the purple Mushroomy Way – then you will be among dirty yellow grains-letters of sand and humus... When you turn the pages rightward you will move across time – from the present (or maybe a few vague visions of the future) to the Big Bang or even further... The journey through space – it's a day part of the book, colour printed. The journey through time – it's a night part of the book, dreamy (history is very close to dreaming and even closer to nightmares, isn't it?), printed (mainly) in shades of grey... On each page there is a separate story – thus the book has a discrete structure...


Because making so huge leporello is very time consuming and toilsome, while reading it is very uncomfortable, you can transform it into a bi-codex. Now a day part (journey across space) is one codex and a night part (journey across time) is another codex. Two codices are joined with their last sheets (dos-á-dos) Thus an hour-glass-book is being formed. A day replaces a night. The world turns. A day-and-night cycle contains a year cycle which contains an eon cycle... Theoretically the book has no cover. It has only a stiffening pad inside: a (card)board where day joins night. You may call it an insider if you wish. There is a window cut in it enabling trespassing the day | night border. Alas, practically the book has the cover. To avoid almost instant damaging the first sheet (page number 001) must be made of thick paper – this means each of the codices is soft bound. What a filthy compromise! Yes, sometimes the practice of everyday life can be really upsetting.


I imagined the third part of my
Nondescription of the World in 1988, I guess. I remember it was a kind of illumination and for some time I was walking in the glory of a future Nobel Prize winner (the glory noticed by nobody except myself): creating a book whose every component was meaningful seemed as important as discovering America. Maybe a month later I bought a facsimile edition of medieval Russian illuminated manuscript The Story of Boris and Gleb (published by “Kniga” in Moscow in 1986) with a very interesting scientific commentary where Yefim’s book reform was mentioned
(but Yefim himself was not mentioned at all). According to it the closest relation between external form of a word and its meaning (...), sense of every, even the smallest orthography and graphic phenomena should be shown; one has to assume that every letter in a word has its meaning and can change the sense of predication... And then it turned out that all parts of this book were closely related, none of them appearing accidentally. A face is a sign of the soul. A letter, sign, text is a face of the book. To read a text is like to look into eyes, read in the eyes of a hidden interlocutor. That is why the height of the letter is the same as the distance from the mouth to the eyebrows of figures in miniatures, while their heads have the size of two lines. This is how various structural levels are linked artistically. The scale of outer world space transforms into the scale of the book inner space... Was I disappointed that I was not the first? No, I was not. I was awfully glad to know that I am not alone although my way is not exactly the one of Yefim. Columbus didn't discover America, either. Neither Yefim was the first, nor I am the last.

A book as a world. A book as a model of the world whose tiny part it is... A book itself is a world. And the world itself is a book. Not metaphorically, but really. Or an enormously huge library. A book is a tiny crumb of the world that contains the entire world whose part it is. What an impish ort. A part that contains the whole – it sounds pretty quantumish. And this is just the magic of a book, a book regarded as a container for the whole world...


World or mind?


Both...


Does it mean that world is mind?


Maybe. Who knows...



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